Keeping malware off your computer through the use of a good antivirus package that includes anti-spyware software is the best security practice to protect your privacy. Spyware is a common type of malware that gathers information about you and your computer habits, usually without your knowledge.
There are several types of spyware that you may encounter:
Domestic spyware, which is often legitimately used to monitor computer use at work, or by parents to keep track of their children's cellphone habits. Apps that track down your smartphone when it is lost or stolen is another example of domestic spyware with a legitimate use.
Surveillance spyware, which collects personal information about you from your computer and sends it to a third party. This could include credentials like your passwords and credit card information.
Adware, or commercial spyware, which is used to gather information about you for targeted advertising. It can also subject you to advertising in the form of pop-ups or as in-app advertising on your cellphone.
Keylogger spyware, which records your computer keystrokes and sends them to a third party. Particularly heinous, it can gather your login credentials, banking information or other sensitive information.
Many computer users first get computer or mobile spyware when they download games or apps that contain adware. Free apps in particular are prone to adware, though paid apps aren't immune. What's troubling about this is that most times you haven't given your express consent to allow the adware to gather information about you, and you have no control over what information it collects.
Downloading and installing software programs also carries a spyware risk. Sometimes spyware is part of the installation package, and if you simply accept the installation as-is without verifying exactly what you're installing, you could be introducing spyware onto your computer. Also, clicking on a pop-up ad may initiate a spyware download.
Spyware may subject you to uncomfortable amounts of advertising, change your search results so you are presented with more advertising or overload you with pop-up ads.
A strong anti-spyware solution can make spyware removal easy and ensure that the spyware is completely removed. Once you've run the anti-spyware software, be aware of your system operations. Check processes, know what you're running and ensure that your firewall settings are correct.
For mobile devices, monitor your data usage to ensure that it is in line with your expectations and past real usage. Deviations from expected use may signal the presence of spyware. Battery life is also a good indicator, as shorter battery life may indicate that unexpected processes are running.
Install an anti-spyware solution to run in background, but run it as-needed if you suspect you may have introduced spyware onto your computer.
Before installing software, apps, toolbars or add-ons, do your research and read consumer or industry reviews to see if anyone has complained about adware or spyware piggybacking onto the download.
Download software from trusted sites. While this isn't always full-proof, it is far more secure that downloading from sites that you've never heard of.
Block pop-ups and never click anything but the "X" to close them. Sometimes, simply clicking anywhere in the pop-up can have consequences.
Keep your browser up-to-date to ensure you have the latest security updates. Your browser also has security settings that you can adjust to maintain higher security standards.
After installing anything new, check your settings, browser performance and processes. Always determine if software is running as expected. Look for software persistence, often a telltale sign of spyware. If the software is persistent after it is closed, run your anti-spyware to check and verify.